Conservative, Reform leaders urge Netanyahu to implement stalled Western Wall deal

In January this year, the cabinet approved a resolution to create a government recognized pluralist prayer section at the southern end of the Western Wall.

Western Wall (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Western Wall
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The rabbinical leadership of the Conservative Movement has written to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calling on them to implement the Western Wall agreement approved in January.
The letter, also sent to other senior government officials, is the first step in what the Conservative and Reform movements hope will be a massive letter-writing campaign from their communal membership to Netanyahu urging him to make good on a promise he made at the 2015 General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America.
Netanyahu said then, “I will always ensure that all Jews can feel at home in Israel – Reform Jews, Conservative Jews, Orthodox Jews – all Jews,” and the leadership of the progressive Jewish movements say they are holding the prime minister to that pledge.
The Prime Minister’s Office declined a request for comment on the letter.
A source within Bayit Yehudi said in response,“There is a government resolution in place that needs to be implemented, and we’re not the ones stopping the compromise from being implemented. The PMO took responsibility for it and they need to push it forward.”
In January, the cabinet approved a resolution to create a government-recognized pluralist prayer section at the southern end of the Western Wall but the deal has been frozen owing to the fierce objections of Shas and United Torah Judaism.
In their letter, also addressed to President Reuven Rivlin, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein and Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett, the rabbis said the agreement had involved many compromises to obtain the goal of having “one wall for one people,” which they said Netanyahu had asked them to pursue.
“The Kotel is the preeminent national and religious symbol of the relationship of our people to our homeland,” wrote the rabbis, saying it could not be left to the governance of people that alienates Jews from the progressive denominations.
“The capacity to ensure the future of Israel as a Jewish state depends upon Israel being a democratic state that embraces all Jews. We fully believe that your commitment and courage has the potential to change the sad history that is in the making at this very moment. Your leadership and vision can guarantee that the State of Israel will truly be a home for all Jews.”
The letter was signed by Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, executive vice president of the Conservative Movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, Rabbi Steven Wernick, CEO of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism in the US, and just under 50 other rabbis from the US, Canada, Latin America and Europe.
The international email writing campaign to the prime minister, in which Women of the Wall is also participating, will be initiated this Saturday night and be extended until the end of the coming holiday season.
At the same time, communal Conservative and Reform rabbis from across North America will speak about the Western Wall agreement, and the failure to implement it, in their Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur sermons, and will encourage their synagogue members to participate in the campaign.
“This is not a campaign against the government of Israel, it is a campaign which is coming to remind people of something which all children learn in school, that the State of Israel is the state of the Jewish people,” said the director of the Masorti (Conservative) Movement in Israel, attorney Yizhar Hess. “This sentence will be emptied of its content if only one type of Jew can enjoy their rights here.”
Rabbi Steve Wernick, CEO of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism in the US noted that in a recent poll conducted for the Jerusalem Post Magazine, two-thirds of Israelis were shown to favor the Western Wall agreement.
“Combined with the diaspora, who are overwhelmingly pluralistic, there is no question that the clear desire of world Jewry is to create a permanent space for pluralistic and egalitarian prayer at the Kotel. This campaign allows Jews the world over to demonstrate the power of their voices to Israeli decision-makers.”
Rabbi Bob Slosberg leads the Adath Jeshurun synagogue in Louisville, Kentucky, a community of some 480 household members, and will be one of the many Conservative rabbis in the US speaking about the Western Wall resolution to his congregants over Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.
“Pluralism has become a major issue in the shul, in the community, in the local federation and in the congregations,” Slosberg told The Jerusalem Post. “It’s about long term viability of state that is welcoming to all Jews, who don’t want to feel like a stranger in their own homeland.”
The rabbi said in particular that the approval of the resolution followed by the failure to implement it was “inexcusable” and “unfathomable” for American Jews, who he said were disturbed by reports about the treatment of non-Orthodox Jews at the Western Wall.
Slosberg also noted the damaging effect “the disrespect and mistreatment” of progressive Jews in Israel could have on Jewish consensus around Israel in the Diaspora.
“We love Israel, but the more people feel disconnected from Israel, for a variety of reasons, the worse it is for Israel,” said Slosberg, who is also a founding member of the Louisville AIPAC council.
“We are fighting BDS movements, and programs on college campuses that speak negatively of Israel, but it’s very important that Israel be a place we can unite around.”